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Protecting a Life is Always a Priority

(Published in Jewish Journal March 27)
The Torah commands us protect our lives, and those of others. Based on the verse, “Guard yourself and guard your soul very much” (Deut. 4:9). According to Jewish law, it is a duty to take all due precautions and avoid anything that may endanger life. “Anyone who violates such prohibitions, saying ‘I’m only putting myself at risk – what business is that of anybody else?’ or ‘I’m not particular about such things’ deserves a lashing, while those who are careful about such things will be blessed” (Choshen Mishpat 427, 8-10).”

Every family that cares for keeping the sanctity of the Sabbath also must care for the sanctity of life and take extra precautions to ensure the safety of our homes.

Below are some guidelines in accordance with Jewish law:

  • All families must install dual-sensor smoke and fire alarms and additional carbon monoxide alarms around their homes, test them weekly, and gently vacuum them monthly. They should be installed in bedrooms, hallways, attics, basements, and you can check the National Fire Protection Association website for details.
  • Never use cracked, worn or sheared electric chords – whether on a hot plate, Sukkah lights, lamps etc.
  • Do not overload sockets or improperly use extension chords.
  • Keep candles under adult supervision, use self-extinguishing Shabbat and Hanukkah candles – and extinguish menorahs before going to bed.
  • Never leave flammable material (curtains, hand towels etc.) in proximity to heat sources such as hot plates, Shabbat, Hanukkah or Yom Tov candles.
  • While we are not permitted to extinguish a fire without reason on Shabbat, it is a mitzvah to extinguish a unintentional fire in a home on Shabbbat as it is a direct threat to people in adjacent homes. Even in an isolated home, with no apparent neighbors, the fire must be put out because it could spread to the field or forest and harm someone else.

Food Safety Guidelines for Shabbat Observance in accordance with Halacha:

  • To enjoy warm food on Shabbat, electric hot plates should be used with an appliance timer, which turns off at bed time and back on in the morning. On Shabbat, solid foods should remain on the cold hotplate overnight. On Yom Tov, when it is permitted to cook, any food can be placed back on the hot plate in the morning.
  • Chulent or Hamim can be cooked safely in an electric slow-cooker overnight. Reminder to remove the pot insert from the slow cooker before serving the chulent in order to avoid stirring a cooked food in a cooking vessel. Also the slow cooker can be put on a timer to turn off after your meal time.
  • Leaving on a gas-range on a low flame is common practice whether on Shabbat or on Yom Tov among orthodox families – please be very cautious. Try to find alternatives. On Shabbos use a metal “blech” to cover a low flame. On Yom Tov, any time the flame is not being used for cooking, covered with a pot of water. If a flame goes out – turn off the gas immediately.
  • Ovens that have built-in Sabbath modes – which overrides the auto-shut-off function for the duration of a three-day holiday – have been tested for this use and are designed to safely operate for 72 hours.

We have a sacred duty to protect life. By educating ourselves, and protecting our families and communities with diligence in these and other safety issues, we are fulfilling that mitzvah.

Feel free to contact me with any questions.

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This holiday of redemption

Last days of Pesach. Focusing on the redemption, the crossing of the sea, Miriam and dancing, the Ball Shem Tov meal at the end of this holiday. This holiday where matzah shortages in chain supermarkets in California made the news. This holiday where Obama and Clinton duked it out, with Basketball and Hockey playoffs, and hundreds of religious Jews praying mincha at Disneyland together. This holiday that people speak of in the past tense while it is still going on. As in, “my Passover was great” when they mean the seder, and not the holiday. Or do they mean the holiday. This holiday that converged with Earth Day, meaning you could eat your matzah and represent for the earth – it was the convergence of all things crunchy. This holiday where I explained that the cup of Eliyahu is not really for Eliyahu, but that it represents the fifth cup – not four – that some rabbis in the Talmud believed needed to be included in the seder. The argument was solved by the compromise of the fifth cup. And they wrote that when Eliyahu comes to herald the Messiah and this and other questions will be answered, we will know how many cups we were to drink at the seder. Hence it became Eliyahu’s cup. Not Eliyahu in the some Santa Clause kind of way, swooping down on the Jewish homes to swig some bad kiddush wine. I mean what kind of junk did we teach our kids, and what did they feed us? And this holiday where the Muslim Student Union at UCI unveils another outrageous campaign against Jewish students by proclaiming that there is a Holocaust in Palestine and how can Jewish organizations think this meshugass is going to go away by playing patty-cake with the chancellor – it won’t – its gonna get a whole lot worse before you kick these shmucks off campus. And this Holiday where the Hebrew Hammers powered only by sheer will won 14-6, by not swinging the bat. Where they partied on Matzah Pizzas much like the one pictured here. This holiday where all kinds of clever marketing gimmicks were in the works, but the Matzah Song hit a chord. This holiday where we came to the realization that we are all slaves to high oil prices. This holiday where Amy Winehouse is sitting in jail again. This holiday where the weather is wacky and and the stars of aligned, and the Tigers win four straight games. This holiday where you cling to the hope that you can change the world in some significant way by speaking about it at the Seder Table, but you know, deep down, that talk is cheap, and words cheaper, and that the only thing to do is act. Mitzvah. This holiday is about the act. The act of redemption. This holiday where you come up with wonderful ideas because you are elated and high on life, and that you realize that you’ll never get everything done in your life that you hope to. Happy Passover. Happy Redemption Days. and Shabbat Shalom.
Matzah Pizza courtesy of Ben Perelstein

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Midrash of Hanukkah Rocks: Volume 2

Two years ago I published the first of two volumes of my own commentary on one of the most important commentaries on Jewish life in America that was sadly flying under the radar. Even when recognized, it is usually misunderstood. I am speaking of course about the album Hanukkah Rocks, by The LeeVee’s Hanukkah. The LeeVee’s not only have recorded an album with great melodies, rhythms, and lyrics, but they have authored a profound statement on the nature of being Jewish, Jewish values, Jewish nationhood, and Jewish philosophy.

Looking at Hanukkah Rocks from a rabbinical perspective, the issues, the topics, the mitzvahs literally leap off the page, it all screams darsheni “interpret me!” What follows is the long anticipated sequel to Volume 1, humbly called the Midrash of Hanukkah Rocks: Volume 2.
Kugel
(6th song on the album)
Reaching into the pleasures of the Jewish feast, kugel becomes a metaphor for a discussion on the nature of Jewish traditions. Kugel, a heavy, sweet and creamy baked noodle dish that the LeeVees remember Grandma making, has undergone a radical shift. Brought on by low-fat concerns, and other seemingly important cultural and social factors, kugel has been fundamentally altered, nigh, desecrated. Their mother’s kugel just isn’t the same as Grandma’s kugel. Which brings up a discussion about Minhag Yisroel, Torah Hi, “Jewish custom’s pre-eminence is religious matters.” This rabbinic adage, ascribing the importance of tradition and custom in religious practice, is an honest warning against wanton abandonment of Jewish ways. They sing in kugel “So don’t try to tell me things they haven’t changed/ the way your made these days you should have another name/ I just wish things stayed the same.” Is this not an appeal to forestall the wanton abandonment of Jewish tradition, the reckless endangerment of Jewish civilization through casting off seemingly unimportant cultural and religious artifacts that we have adopted on our journey through 2000 years of exile?

And if this is not an appeal to rejoice and empower a return to minhag avos, beautiful traditions left by the wayside. Is this not a a call to respect traditions. It is not by accident that Fiddler on the Roof uses the refrain, Tradition, to concentrate Jewish experience into one word. Kugel, is Tradition, in hipster speak.

“Now I’m getting hungry… ” In other words, there is a deep longing for meaningful traditions—not fluff, not new-age shallowness, not cultural appropriation and misappropriation of the sacred creeds of other traditions, melted into a Judaism.

“Sorry mom your just ain’t the same…” I respect where my parents have gone, but truly, they have gone so far, that we have lost the essence of being Jewish, the path of spirituality, the deep connections to our creamy-thick and rich past.

At the Matzah Ball
Song #7
Almost nowhere in contemporary music has their been a more poignant and beautiful ballad in favor of Jewish continuity, the importance of finding your beshert. Jewish artists rarely take this issue head on. They don’t want to upset the apple cart —many of their fan base is not upset by the specter of intermarriage and deep assimilation. They write fluffy songs. They fill the airwaves with all kinds of gooey stuff, but when the rubber hits the road—the future of the Jewish community—they have let us down.

The LeeVees have taken the issue by the horns, and have penned an appeal to Jewish men: find a Jewish girl. “Jewish girls all shapes and sizes, waiting for you…” you might be convinced that all Jewish girls are the same—they aren’t. God created Jewish women and men in great diversity. Each person has a beshert. We don’t know when or where we will meet them, it might even be while you are sitting on a metal folding chair at the JCC’s mitzvah ball.

“Didn’t know you were a member of the tribe,” You might not even realize, sing the LeeVees, that the girl you have been looking at is Jewish! She might not wear her tribal affiliations around her neck. That doesn’t mean that being Jewish is not important to her. She can be a passionate and dedicated Jew, and be a private person.

There is another message of the song, hidden beneath the layers of harmony and a catchy beat: “Loneliness won’t keep you warm in winter.” They are telling us, don’t be a martyr on the alter of your ego. And don’t think that your true happiness will come in playing the field indefinitely. Is it an accident that Chanukah comes now? And finally, the moral of the story, perhaps, is that we cannot find our beshert, without looking for them.

Gelt Melts
Song #8
Again, the LeeVees use the metaphor of a common Chanukah celebration, in this case the eating of chocolate coins, to instill a deep message about performing mitzvas and the nature of why we do mitzvahs.

Many times we are confronted with the thoughts of why it is a mitzvah to do this or that—eat matzah on Passover, wave the lulav, not eat milk and meat together—and we are stumped. It makes no sense.

One of the primary reasons we do mitzvahs is not because we understand always the nature of the mitzvah. We do mitzvahs with the belief that we will internalize an essential connection to God through performance of mitzvahs. Later, we will come to an understanding. It will not be apparent, it may not come right away. Nonetheless we cannot refrain from doing mitzvhas, because life is short. Life is fleeting, life melts as fast chocolate coins in your pocket.

Of course we will be ridiculed by the world. The world will look at our mitzvahs and try to humiliate us with them—but look who is talking! As they sing “If goys can eat a chocolate bunny, why cant we eat chocolate money?” The goyim might ridicule some of our traditions, some of our mitzvahs, but look whose talking! And chocolate bunnies is just the start.

“You gotta get while you can, won’t last long/we don’t claim to have the answer this song/but your good thing will be gone” Mitzvas are fleeting. You cannot make Kiddush Sunday morning. You can’t make up for Chanukah in January. The time is now. Carpe Mitzvah!

Nun Gimmel Heh Shin
#9
You might think that dreidel is just a game. Dredel is really an eloquent way to teach children about life, giving, service, self sacrifice, thinking of others. This song goes against the entire grain of society now, which is all about me, all “I” this and “I” that. Where is the “thou” where is the other? Life is about giving. “You’ll get out what you put in.”

Nun, Gimmel, Hey, Shin then teaches us that even the most innocent of Jewish childhood games has depth, character, and instructs us in the game of life. It is sacred. It is innocent. It is wholesome. Those that organize Texas Hold-em Dreidel contests, dreidel drinking games, and strip- dreidel, are contributing to the profound degradation of our consciousness, denigrating the innocent game at the expense of vice. They let chronic pornography, gambling addiction, and alcoholism become acceptable. The Maccabbes fought to save us from the Hellenism! The debasement of dreidel gives the Greeks a posthumous victory. Dreidel needs to stay just dreidel.

See below for Volume One: Read more